Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Canadian government will wait patiently for the U.S. electoral process to unfold, and a senior official says Ottawa will co-operate with whoever wins the presidency.
“As everyone knows, there is an electoral process under way in the United States. We are, of course, following it carefully and will continue to as the day and days unfold,” Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday when asked to comment on the too-close-to-call presidential election.
A senior official later told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Trudeau does not want to become embroiled in U.S. electoral politics, including President Donald Trump’s pre-emptive declaration that he had won the presidency and that no more ballots should be counted. The Globe is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to publicly discuss Canadian policy regarding the United States.
The official said Canada wants to be seen as a willing partner of whoever wins the presidency. Even if Joe Biden were declared the winner, Mr. Trudeau wants to maintain good relations with Mr. Trump, who would remain in the White House until the transfer of power on Jan. 20.
“It’s the only strategy that they can follow. It’s the same way we would be very resentful of any foreign interference in a Canadian election, and Canada would be wise to allow the Americans to determine their own election," Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty said in an interview.
Gerald Butts, vice-chairman of the global consulting firm Eurasia Group and a former top adviser to Mr. Trudeau, said the government has a two-playbook strategy for the presidential election.
“If Biden wins and comes out on top, there is an opportunity for more constructive engagement on issues like climate [change], and if the Trump people come out, the playbook is already well developed for that,” he said during an online Eurasia presentation on the election Wednesday. “It’s managing a tempestuous bilateral relationship and hoping they make incremental progress on issues that are significant to certain constituencies like softwood lumber and issues of that ilk.”
However, Mr. Butts added that the U.S. political system is deeply polarized, as is Congress, and this will likely make it difficult for Mr. Biden to assume global leadership on combatting COVID-19 or addressing climate change.
“The last clear signal [Tuesday] night is the U.S. remains polarized as ever, and those who are waiting for U.S. leadership to take on some of these nettlesome global issues, it’s not coming down over the hills any time soon,” he said.
Mr. Beatty, who served as a senior cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney, said Canadian officials will have to spend much more time lobbying in the U.S. Senate if the Republicans retain a slim majority, even in the event Mr. Biden becomes president.
“Our outreach to Congress is going to be very important. So it’s not simply Prime Minister’s Office to White House … we have to be on [Capitol] Hill as well to make the Canadian case,” he said.
A Biden presidency would likely mean fewer “vexatious” trade actions against Canada, such as tariffs on steel and aluminum, but Canadians should be aware that “we have to watch for things like Buy America policies, where Biden has been very clear that he is in favour of them.”
Mr. Biden has also said he would cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project that Mr. Trump approved to bring Alberta heavy oil to U.S. refineries, Mr. Beatty added.
Roland Paris, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa and a former foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau, said it’s in Canada’s interest to say little right now.
“The Canadian government has little to gain by wading into a U.S. political dispute, and Canada can’t affect the outcome in any event,” Prof. Paris said.
“Trump will continue to be President until Jan. 20 under any circumstances,” he added. “There is no urgency to be recognizing a winner until the results are clear.”
Conversely, a Biden administration would significantly improve the tenor of Canada-U.S. relations, Prof. Paris predicted. Mr. Biden has spoken of the need to repair relations with America’s closest allies and has described Canada as “more like family.”